Only active HBCU football program in COVID-19 crisis

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Florida Memorial University is the only HBCU that elected to play college football in 2020. It started off with a 62-0 loss in the program re-start, and things have only gone further down hill since then.

In the span of a week, two football games have been rescheduled, due to “COVID-19 related issues.” A source tells HBCU Gameday that more than two dozen FMU football student-athletes have tested positive for COVID-19. HBCU Gameday has also learned that Tim “Ice” Harris has been suspended indefinitely after refusing to coach the team with the COVID crisis.

Sources indicate AD Ernest T. Jones will name himself as interim head coach. We reached out to FMU athletics and called Jones, but Jones did not return our calls.

A report from the Miami Times stated that Harris had been fired as head coach early Thursday afternoon. Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell stated that Harris had been suspended, not fired. The school later released a statement that Harris, along with volleyball coach Marrita Crockett-Moulton were both still employed at the University.

HBCU Gameday reached out to Florida Memorial for comment on the status of both those coaches, as well as cheer coach Kalyn James who has reportedly been fired after our initial report. Our request remains in queue, however, James’ status was not answered by the school.

AD HAS NUMBERS, WON’T RELEASE THEM

Jones told HBCU Gameday on Tuesday that, although he is aware of the number of student-athletes that have tested positive, he is not at liberty to disperse the information. Nor is it in his hands.

“My job as the athletics director is to get the information to the people on campus. And then the school moves it from there,” Jones said.

“The health and safety of our students, of our student-athletes, of our faculty and staff is at the forefront of every decision that we make,” he said. “We don’t make any decisions at Florida Memorial University without thinking about our students, our student-athletes, our faculty and our staff. Me, in particular as the director of athletics, I’m here because of these young people. And because of this staff. I’m never going to jeopardize their health, their wellness— any of that stuff. It will never happen as long as I’m the AD.”

THE ONLY 2020 HBCU FOOTBALL PROGRAM

The fall of 2020 was supposed to be a triumphant time for Florida Memorial football. The program was being re-started after 62 years under the leadership of Harris, a local legend in South Florida high school coaching circles.

But sources tell HBCU Gameday that there was friction between Harris and Jones, who most recently served as head football coach at Morgan State. When the pandemic began to impact college football, one-by-one, HBCU conferences and schools decided to postpone football to the fall. When the dust settled, Florida Memorial was the last HBCU football program standing.

Harris, according to multiple sources, did not want to play this fall. Jones and Dr. Jaffus Hardrick, FMU’s president, reportedly overruled him.

“The head football coach (Harris), he wanted to start football in the spring,” the source said. “The president felt as though, it was in the school’s best interest because he’s trying to get the enrollment of African-American men up and he was thinking the football team would help with that.”

Florida Memorial is 0-3 this season. (Vaughn Wilson)

BEYOND ATHLETICS

But like all things in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major factor. And issues at FMU go beyond the department of athletics. The school, located in Miami Gardens, is in one of the hotspots of the pandemic.

Multiple sources tell HBCU Gameday that on-campus housing was unable to accommodate properly segregating COVID-19 positive students from the general population, at times having them in the same rooming quarter.

As for its student positive numbers, FMU says it sends a communication each time the University receives notification of a reported case.

“FMU has an isolation program for students who test positive, which includes either on-campus quarantine or transportation to an isolation hotel at no cost to the student. Both isolation programs also include meal delivery,” the school wrote in a statement.

HBCU Gameday has learned that at least one student was kicked off an athletics team for questioning the numbers and holding people accountable. Jones denied any knowledge of such behavior in the Miami Herald.

Jones also denied that he has a say in who gets a scholarship, putting that in the hands of coaches.

“The scholarship paperwork comes into my office. I look into the scholarship budget of the coach, to ensure that the coach has enough money inside that scholarship budget. And If they do, I send it over to financial aid to get it over to the system,” he said.

“Once it hits my desk, I know that my people have signed off on it. And they’re telling us that this Kid can play here. Other than that, I don’t even talk to the athletes. I couldn’t even tell you who got a scholarship. I can tell you if I go look at a document, but I couldn’t tell it off the top of my head. Because we only go through this process.”

HBCU Gameday will continue to report on this developing story.

 

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